Maybe you just purchased your first Android device—or perhaps you've had it for a while but you suspect you aren't getting the most out of it. Either way, you're in luck: There is so much available in the way of tweaks, apps, options, and configurations that can make your device more powerful and useful. Here are 10 of my favorite tips to help you get the maximum benefit from the Android platform.
1: Use Google
If there's one thing you should know about Android, it's that it's tightly integrated with Google. If you don't take advantage of that integration, you'll be missing out. I'm not just talking about Google Drive, Calendar, Mail, Photos, etc. I also mean search. Google Now is one of the most tightly integrated tools you will find on Android. If you're not using it to its fullest extent, you're getting only a partial glimpse of what the platform can do. Set up the Google Now hotword (Can you say, "Okay Google"?) and learn the ins and outs of that powerful digital assistant.
2: Set up auto backup
Most likely, you've associated your Android device with your Google account. You're getting your email and using Google Docs. But all that information on your device is just sitting there... waiting for the day when you lose the device or you drop it and a car zooms by and crushes it to a final, heart-wrenching death. Yes, the cost of replacing a device that doesn't have insurance and is still in-contract can be a bit much. But what of the data? If you want to avoid such drama, be sure to visit the Backup & Reset section of your device and set it up. Android can back up app data, Wi-Fi passwords, other Google server settings, photos, contacts, and more.
3: Install Tasker
If there was ever an app that can transform your Android experience, it's Tasker. This app will make your device about as automated as a mobile device can be. Set up automated tasks based on time, location, events, and more. It's rare that I can say you won't find a more powerful, usable tool for a mobile platform—yet, here it is. Tasker isn't free, but the $2.99 price of entry is well worth what this app brings to your device. If you don't believe me, take a look at the 26K+ 5-star reviews. Tasker is that good.
4: Install a third-party home screen launcher
Don't get me wrong: The stock Android launcher is good. Problem is, few devices actually come with the stock Android home screen launcher. If you're not fond of how you interact with your home screen, install my all time favorite, Nova Launcher. This launcher offers a perfect combination of look, feel, and function. With gesture support and a clean interface, Nova is the way to go. But if Nova doesn't float your boat, there are plenty of other home screen launchers to fit just about every taste.
If you're running an outdated version of Android, make sure you regularly check for upgrades. Currently, the most up-to-date version of Android is 5.1. The difference between this and previous versions is nothing short of astounding. With each iteration, Android gets better and better. The only downfall is that not every device is capable of upgrading to the latest version. If you're running an Android smartphone or tablet with an outdated release, and you're near contract end, it's time to upgrade your phone. If you want to get the most out of Android, you need to stay up to date.
6: Install a file manager
There will be a time when you need to locate a local file (such as a download). When this time comes, the best way to do this is to use a file manager. Some devices (such older Samsung devices) include an app called My Files. Although serviceable, it doesn't offer nearly the power as, say, Astro File Manager. Most modern mobile file managers have plenty of bells and whistles (such as SMB or Bluetooth plug-ins), but most often you simply need to locate a file on your Android directory structure. When you do, you'll be glad you've installed one.
7: Password protect your lockscreen
Although this won't add a lot in the way of features or power, it will protect your data. Set up a password, PIN, or pattern to lock your lockscreen so that prying eyes can't easily get into your data. Period. This should not be up for debate. Yes, it might make it inconvenient. Yes, you're now one more step away from getting on Facebook or taking a selfie. But your data will thank you in the end. Again: Not up for debate. If, when at home or at work, having to enter your password constantly is an annoyance, you can (if your device is running Lollipop) set up trusted locations. Then you won't have to enter your password/PIN/pattern when you are within 500 feet of a trusted location.
8: Set up two-step authentication
You might spy a theme here... security. But your mobile data is vulnerable. There's no reason to hand over the keys to the kingdom in the event that your device is lost. Password protecting your home lockscreen will help prevent people from gaining access to your device. Take that one step further and keep them from gaining access to the account that helps power your platform: Google. If you set up two-step authentication, the only way to get into your Google account is with your account password and a four-digit code randomly generated by the Google Authenticator app. Do this. Now.
9: Make use of the new Gmail
If you've upgraded to Lollipop, you better get used to the Gmail app because Google has shelved the stock Email tool. That's okay. Gmail has come a long way and can handle just about anything you throw at it (even Exchange). What's best, Gmail doesn't relegate your email to a universal inbox. Instead, you can now easily switch between accounts by swiping right (from the left edge of the screen) to reveal the sidebar. Tap on your account image at the top of the sidebar to switch between accounts.
10: Switch to Hangouts
You spend a lot of time messaging back and forth. On Android, messaging can be in the form of SMS, Google Hangouts, and more. Make your life easier and install the Hangouts app to combine all your SMS and Google Hangouts chats into one outstanding tool. Hangouts isn't just a convenient way to receive two types of chats in one location—it's actually superior to the default SMS app. Why Google hasn't done away with the standard Messages apps, I'll never understand.
Share your tips
There are many ways to enhance your Android experience. These tips should go a long way toward helping you work more efficiently, securely, and productively on your mobile device.
What's your go-to setup for getting the most bang for your buck out of Android? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.